Neuroaesthetics: The State of the Domain in 2017
In this article, I assess the current state of neuroaesthetics by reviewing 10 recent books on neuroscientific and evolutionary aspects of aesthetic cognition. These books largely continue the main thrust of this genre since its inception. Virtually all are insightful and thought-provoking, though their individual strengths vary. Among them, Shimamura and Palmer’s edited book, Aesthetic Science, provides the most useful and balanced interdisciplinary framework, making philosophy and psychology equal partners with neuroscience. This pluralistic mode, dethroning neuroscience from its usual hegemony, seems best poised to address heretofore neglected issues in neuroaesthetics research. I address several dichotomous tensions—high versus low art, the drive for creative innovation versus evolutionarily canalized aesthetic biases, and explicit versus implicit aspects of aesthetic cognition—to identify promising future research directions, which can best be fulfilled though interdisciplinary cooperation and debate, with a continued emphasis on evolutionary theory.
Keywords: neuroaesthetics, evolution, neuroscience, aesthetic cognition, art appreciation, aesthetic experience, creativity, two cultures
Books under review:
Chatterjee, Anjan. 2014. The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art. New York: Oxford University Press. xxiii, 217 pages. Paperback $19.95.
Huston, Joseph P., Marcos Nadal, Francisco Mora, Luigi F. Agnati, and Camilo J. Cela-Conde, eds. 2015. Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain. New York: Oxford University Press. vii, 545 pages. Hardcover $159.50.
Kandel, Eric R. 2012. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. New York: Random House. 636 pages. Hardcover $50.00.
Kandel, Eric R. 2016. Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. New York: Columbia University Press. 226 pages. Hardcover $29.95.
Lauring, Jon O., ed. 2014. An Introduction to Neuroaesthetics: The Neuroscientific Approach to Aesthetic Experience, Artistic Creativity, and Arts Appreciation. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. ix, 425 pages. Paperback $50.00.
Orians, Gordon H. 2014. Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 221 pages. Paperback $17.00.
Rothenberg, David. 2011. Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution. New York: Bloomsbury. 311 pages. Paperback $19.00.
Shimamura, Arthur P. 2013. Experiencing Art: In the Brain of the Beholder. New York: Oxford University Press. 280 pages. Paperback $56.00.
Shimamura, Arthur P., and Stephen E. Palmer, eds. 2012. Aesthetic Science: Connecting Minds, Brains, and Experience. New York: Oxford University Press. 408 pages. Paperback $47.95.
Starr, G. Gabrielle. 2013. Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. xvi, 259 pages. Hardcover $30.00.
Baumgarten, Alexander G. 1750. Aesthetica. Hildesheim: Georg Olms.
Chatterjee, Anjan, and Oshin Vartanian. 2014. “Neuroaesthetics.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18 (7): 370–75.
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Palmer, Stephen E., Karen B. Schloss, and Jonathan Sammartino. 2012. “Hidden Knowledge in Aesthetic Judgments: Preferences for Color and Spatial Composition.” In Aesthetic Science: Connecting Minds, Brains, and Experience, edited by Arthur P. Shimamura and Stephen E. Palmer, 189–222. New York: Oxford University Press.
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